DALLAS – Current state law says only U.S. citizens can serve as police officers.
A North Texas lawmaker has filed a bill that would allow for legal permanent residents to be eligible for law enforcement jobs.
Twice before, similar legislation failed. Although at one time in Texas, green card holders could serve as police.
The chiefs of the biggest cities in North Texas say allowing this group the opportunity to become police could help with the shortage of jailers and officers.
Police everywhere are fighting two battles: crime in communities and a shortage of qualified candidates.
Eleven other states do allow people who hold a green card to become police officers. This is the third time similar bills have been filed in recent years.
“What this legislation does is it will seek to expand the pool of applicants who can apply to be a police officer to legal permanent residents,” said State Rep. Victoria Neave-Criado (D-Dallas). “Legal permanent residents can serve in the United States military and protect and serve and die for our country. They also should have the right to protect and serve our neighborhoods.”
Dallas police are turning away a minimum of 50-100 people each month at job fairs who are legal permanent residents. While they cannot be police officers, they can become firefighters.
“I had to scratch my head on that,” said Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia. “How you can serve and sacrifice as a member of DF, but you can’t as DPD.”
There was a time though when you could.
Officer Daniel Seguro joined Fort Worth PD as a legal permanent resident in 2002.
“In 2006, after being a police officer in the city of Fort Worth for four years, I became a U.S. citizen,” he said.
After becoming a citizen, the Texas Legislature changed the law.
“I did not serve at that time, but we heard I think the rhetoric has changed throughout the years,” Neave-Criado said. “Especially after 9/11, from what I’ve heard.”
Police say it needs to change again.
“We have a staffing level authorized of 1,816 officers, and we’re down 137,” said Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes. “Turning away one person is too many.”
One like TCU student Noe Barrera, who was born in Mexico. He is here legally, although not a U.S. citizen and banned from being police.
“Literally when I found that, my life came to a stop because my whole life I knew I wanted to be an officer,” he said.
While there is bipartisan support in the House, it’s not yet there in the Senate though conversations are taking place.
These folks are hoping the Legislature will pass the measure like 11 other states who have legal permanent resident status that can also serve as police.